• BIXI station on Saint-Laurent Boulevard in Montreal. (Photo: Patrick Dinnen)

Montreal has learned how to get the most mileage from a pair of wheels. A new study includes the city’s bike sharing system among the top seven in the world.

The Institute for Transportation and Development Policy identified global cities with the best overall performances with their bike sharing systems. Montreal was the only Canadian city to make the top seven, with 6.8 trips per bike and 113.8 trips per 1,000 residents.

Other listed cities include Mexico City, Barcelona and New York City.

Montreal was one of the first Canadian cities to institute a bike share system when they initiated their BIXI program in 2009 as a way to reduce vehicle dependence in the city. BIXI quickly expanded the program throughout the world, including installments in the Ottawa region, Toronto and a small installment in Waterloo, Ont. But financial woes recently led the company to transfer its assets in Toronto and is raising uncertainty over a planned expansion to Vancouver.

One of the authors of the bike share publication, Jacob Mason, says the study is one of the first of its kind. “There’s lots of cities putting bike systems in but there hasn’t been an objective way of seeing how they’re performing.”

Mason lived in Montreal while completing a graduate degree in urban planning and says the city is one of his favourite places. He says that in cities with good transportation systems like Montreal, people use the bikes to replace public transit, while in cities with worse public transportation systems, bike share systems tend to replace cars.

He adds that bike share systems often work best in dense cities — big or small — and believes cities like Victoria, Vancouver, Halifax or Quebec City would be great places to start programs.

Hamilton city council recently approved a plan to institute a system through U.S. company Social Bicycles, while Kitchener-Waterloo launched a small system through their Community Access Bikeshare program.

Mason says that Toronto was difficult to evaluate due to the lack of data on bike use, but it didn’t do as well as Montreal because of a lower station density and a low size of coverage. But the takeover of BIXI by the Toronto Parking Authority could lead to an expansion of the system. “As it gets bigger, each piece gets better,” he says of bike systems in general.

Now that this study on bike share systems is complete, they can focus on other factors, such as the way that bike lanes or other infrastructure affects ridership. Mason also says that if Canadian cities find ways to integrate their bike systems with other public transit options, like some cities in China, it will improve overall performance and “fill in some of the gaps” in transportation.

“Any system that integrates their bike share with their transport will improve both."